Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Tom Baust's In the Spotlight CD

Position has its privileges.

As editor of New Mystics, I sometimes have the pleasure of receiving a request from a writer or musician to review their work. In the case of Tom Baust, this is technically the second time I reviewed his work, as he was the arranger and accompanist for Claudia Beechman’s The Grand Legrand, which I reviewed last year.

When Tom contacted me about reviewing his 2004 self-arranged collection of nearly 20 standards comprising 15 distinct musical tracts, I did not hesitate to say Yes! Being a musical theatre performer for most of my life, I knew the songs would be a treat and Tom’s work with Claudia had impressed me in no small measure.

I was not disappointed. From the song selection, to the wonderful anecdotes in the Liner Notes, to the arrangement and execution of the songs themselves, there is a great deal to enjoy.

Before I get to reviewing the songs themselves, let me tell you a little bit about the very talented and hard-working Tom Baust.
Tom is a Native of Philadelphia (Yo, Adrienne!). He began piano at age 5, and violin at age 8 and later studied guitar and composition. He does studio musician work and has played and sung for several publishing companies. He currently does vocal work for Alfred Publishing in California. He is a soloist and core singer with the award-winning Choral Arts Society and has sung with a dozen other notable groups. He sang at New York’s famous Waldorf Astoria at a dinner for Bill Cosby and was a back-up singer for Sarah Brightman (of Phantom of the Opera fame) on her 2000 tour. He has played and sang at other illustrious venues such as Lincoln Center and Atlantic City’s Taj Mahal.

In the Spotlight (available at www.tombaust.com) features solid musicianship from not only Tom but from Spenser Reed on guitar, Tony Marino on bass, and Marco Marcenko on drums. Engineering was done by Kent Heckman. All the tracks were recorded with the music tracks laid down first, with vocals added last, except for “On My Way to You”, where the piano and vocals were done at the same time. Tom was the pianist, vocalist, and arranger for all songs (except the arrangement on “Fascination Rhythm”) as well as serving as the producer.

Although I have never met Tom Baust, a lot can be learned from the design and content of the CD. The Liner Notes are chock full of anecdotes, memories, dedications, and deep thanks to his private tutors (especially Miss May), college instructors, and workshop teachers. They also feature photos of Tom, the groups with which he performs, and his family. They explain Tom’s journeys and connections to the songs, rather than facts about the songs themselves, and I’ll keep to that spirit (with a few exceptions) in this review.

The CD starts with Steve Allen’s “This Could be the Start of Something Big,” an appropriate hint at what is to come. Tom wastes no time in showing the top end of his baritone and his prowess with vocal dynamics. The song ends with a wonderful flourish, both musically and vocally.

He follows the opening track with “Wonderful Day Like Today,” from the show The Roar of the Greasepaint—The Smell of the Crowd written by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley (personal favorites of mine). Optimism is the theme here, as it is in many of the other selections. Originally written as a duet, Tom has arranged the piece nicely for a single voice.

It is in the Liner Notes for the next track, “On My Way to You” (music by Michel Legrand and lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman), that we read the first of several heart-felt stories about the intermeshing of Tom’s life and music. His story of a circular journey revolving around University of the Arts in Philadelphia (formerly the Philadelphia Music Academy) is worth keeping in mind as you listen. The Liner Notes for this piece also give the listener some insight into the genesis of Tom’s different musical styles.

We next hear a solid rendition of “Love Walked In,” by Ira and George Gershwin, which leads into another Gershwin tune and Marchetti’s “Fascination” in an intriguing arrangement by a nameless college friend with whom Tom has lost touch, but hopes to meet again. This arrangement, titled “Fascination Rhythm Melody,” is the first real hint on the CD of the range of Tom’s showmanship, especially in Gershwin’s well-known “I Got Rhythm.” The medley features some nice background guitar work by Spenser Reed and has a nice musical interlude interwoven with a familiar variation on a theme (a favorite technique of Tom’s and one he uses well). The piece builds and builds to a very solid ending.

My favorite track on Claudia’s CD was Legrand’s “Windmills of Your Mind,” which had lyrics by the Bergmans. Claudia’s CD is mentioned by Tom in the liner notes in connection with his own rendition. This is a nice arrangement featuring excellent piano work and strong cello parts, which he wrote. The song, which comes from Norman Jewison's 1968 film "The Thomas Crown Affair," has been done many times, and not always well. Tom’s rendition, although different from Claudia’s, shares many of the strengths of the version on The Grand Legrand.

“Windsmills” is followed by “I’d Rather Cha Cha Than Eat,” a sadly obscure tune by Grand, Boyd, and Elisse. I could find virtually nothing about this song on the Internet, which is unfortunate, because it is my favorite selection on the CD. Tom says that he was encouraged to explore his comedic side at a workshop at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre in Connecticut. I for one would like to hear him do a whole CD of these types of songs. Play close attention to the lyrics—they harken back to the heyday of clever multi-part rhymes and top notch lyric-making. The “alter ego voice” (Tom’s own) commenting on food is hilarious—listen close! There is great playfulness in the singing, demonstrating further Tom’s natural showmanship.

The next two songs are well known and feature a perfectly positive message for these trying days of war and strife and for all aspiring and working artists alike. The first is “People,” the classic Barbra Steisand tune from Funny Girl, written by Bob Merrill and Jule Styne and the second is “Sing, Sing A Song” by Joe Raposo. This song was popularized by the Carpenters, although I have distinct memories (although my research turned up no actual proof) of it being sung on the kids’ show Zoom. This is a very upbeat and jazzy arrangement. It appears before “People” in the liner notes, but the actual order on the CD works much better.

“My One and Only Love” by Wood and Mellin and “Tenderly” by Gross and Lawrence are companion pieces on the disc, each a tribute to the standards, and explorations of memory and emotion. The first is a slow piano-bar number that transitions into something of great power and passion before diminishing to its start, like the emotional swell of memory itself. “Tenderly” shows off the low end of Tom’s able baritone voice.

“Orange Colored Skies,” another show stopper, written by Milton DeLugg and Willie Stein, was originally recorded by Stan Kenton and his Orchestra with The Nat King Cole Trio in August 1950. Frank Zappa arranged and conducted a version recorded by Burt Ward, the Boy Wonder of the original Batman series, released as a single on November 14, 1966. (This seems like an appropriate place to plug my review of I am Batman, Knight Berman’s CD). Having Burt Ward sing this tune seems like a no-brainer as the signature line, “Flash, bam, alacazam” is so reminiscent of the Batman fight scenes with their illustrated “Onomatopoeia.” Tom handles the difficult phrasing in the song with energy and skill.

Things slow down with another Babs hit, “The Way We Were,” by Marvin Hamlisch, with lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman. Tom executes the song with all the proper sentiment the heartfelt lyrics demand. The echo of the spoken word Memory over and over at the end is powerful and appropriate to the theme of the CD.

We get another two-song medley with “Once in a Lifetime,” from Stop the World I Want to Get Off, by Bricusse and Newley and “For Once in My Life” by Miller and Murden. There are some nice sweeping piano phrases in the first part and a funny anecdote in the Liner Notes. The second part of the medley features a very upbeat and jazzy arrangement. Tom seems to be having a blast with the gifts he’s been given and the energy pours out of the speakers, inviting you to sing along. The medley feels like a 1970s sitcom come to life, and as I listened, my thoughts were filled with shots of Mary Tyler Moore and Valerie Harper in knit berets on a busy city street. The medley features great ‘70s style wa-wa-peddle guitar riffs by Spenser Reed. A terrific get up and get going in the morning arrangement.

The CD closes with “There Will Never be Another You” by Warren and Gordon and “The More I See You” by Gordon. The opening line— “This will be our last dance together”—says it all. The closing track is a beautiful blending of the two songs, with simultaneous lines sung beautifully by Tom that once again show his dexterity with arrangement.

In the Spotlight has a little something for everyone, no matter your specific taste, and provides an excellent backdrop for an at-home dinner with someone with which you have shared a great deal.

I anticipate many joyful, reflective listens in the years to come, and am deeply grateful that Tom took the time to ask me to do this review.
Tom can be reached through his website or directly at tombaust@netcarrier.com

1 comment:

jeanette said...

I was delighted to read such a thoughtful and heartfelt review of Tom Baust's wonderful CD, In The Spotlight. You captured his exceptional arrangements, voice and piano work, and I quite agree that he brings not only showmanship, but heart and soul!